In a statement Friday, Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters called reports that Trump is considering reassigning Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Chief Strategist Steve Bannon “completely false.”
Bannon, who was removed from the National Security Council earlier this week, has been the subject of several stories highlighting his clashes with National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner.
“Once again this is a completely false story driven by people who want to distract from the success taking place in this administration,” Walters said. “The President’s pick for the Supreme Court (a decision that has generational impact) was confirmed today, we hosted multiple foreign leaders this week and the President took bold and decisive military action against Syria last night. The only thing we are shaking up is the way Washington operates as we push the President’s aggressive agenda forward.”
Priebus and Bannon had clashed early in the Administration over internal processes and for influence with the president, but the two have developed a stronger working relationship, aides said. But Bannon’s push for an agenda of economic nationalism has clashed with the worldview of the White House’s New York contingent of Kushner, director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn and Deputy National Security Advisor Dina Powell over policy. Bannon has been the subject of several damaging leaks in the last week, including allegedly lobbing insults at Kushner.
The chief of staff is also feeling the pressure, one of his longtime allies said, and he is less certain about his future in the administration after a tumultuous week. Trump has long prided himself on using chaos to keep his lieutenants on their toes, but many newcomers to his orbit are losing patience with the tactic. “At some point, either you trust your team or you don’t,” the Priebus pal said.
From the outside, observers are worried that one snag in the administration could tear whole pieces to shreds. For instance, Priebus has a core team of loyalists around him, and his exit could hasten theirs. However, that might be what saves Priebus; the administration hasn’t exactly been turning away talent, and replacing as many as a dozen West Wing aides is something the administration lacks time to do. Many Cabinet-level departments still lack full staffs for senior jobs.
If Bannon were to exit, it’s not clear if he would withdraw support from the Mercer family, Trump patrons who have pledged to bankroll one of the two outside political machines boosting his agenda. Bannon is close with daughter Rebekah Mercer and his ouster could lead the Mercers to reconsider their financial backing. At the same time, elevating someone inside the White House who doesn’t share the anti-Establishment fervor of the Mercers could imperil the funding for Trump’s outside operation.
Trump’s senior aides are gathered with him in Florida this weekend following the President’s summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping.